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The Theatreguide.London Review

Agnes Colander
Jermyn Street Theatre   February 2019

Nearly 120 years after Harley Granville-Barker wrote Agnes Colander at the age of 23, the world finally gets a chance to see it performed in a production directed by Trevor Nunn.

Its themes reflect a period in which women were increasingly restless with the restrictions they faced on the right to vote, on employment and on their rights in marriage.

In an artist's studio Agnes talks about her life to her visitors Otto (Matthew Flynn), an artist who she describes as a child with muscle,' and later the young banker Alexander (Freddy Carter), a friend of her husband.

We hear how three years before the play opens she left the 'duties and obligations' of a marriage she had entered at the age of seventeen.

She argues that 'women have been nurtured to give men pleasure' and that 'marriage is precisely not where to see deeply into the sex question.'

Thus she shook hands with the husband she says she had learned much from and sought to find her own way in the world as an artist. And this seems to have been accompanied by her forming relationships with two other men. Alexander observes 'it's a fact that women are not meant to be alone.'

If the play reflects an interesting gender debate, the way it is written makes that debate less interesting. Too often you feel the writer rather than the character speaking. There is also a tendency to be too obvious in telling us things via the arrival of a letter, a telegram, a visitor or even a sudden confessional urge of a character.

The structure is contrived, the characters undeveloped and the dialogue at times artificial.

Yet there are engaging performances from the cast and in particular Naomi Frederick as Agnes wanting 'to see the way the world is and paint it better.'

Had the play been shown at the time it was written there would have been a shock for audiences to hear her say 'women should be more man like in doing what they want.'

Keith McKenna

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Review -   Agnes Colander - Jermyn Street Theatre 2019